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It’s been all quiet on the electric grid front for a few months — but don’t get your hopes up. Over the last month, electricity prices came near the $5000/MWh regulatory cap three separate times because the wind wasn’t blowing enough when the sun went down.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not wrong.

You may hear from the drive-by media that the problem is unseasonably warm temperatures, or that there are a lot of power plants down for maintenance. But high 80s in April and low 90s in May are not unusual, and the Texas grid used to manage these weather changes with no problems. From 2014 to 2016, real-time prices only went over $1000/MWh twice, but it’s happened three times already this year.

If the grid is already on shaky ground, with many weeks to go before blistering triple-digit temperatures shoot electric demand through the roof, all signs are pointing to an unpleasant summer.

The problem with the Texas grid is so simple it’s infuriating: Relying too heavily on unpredictable wind and solar, without enough reliable reserve capacity, means higher volatility — leading to higher prices and increasing need for expensive interventions by ERCOT to avoid outages. This is why your electric bill is going up and up even though wind and solar are supposed to be cheap.

While Texas certainly has a lot of sun, peak solar output almost never aligns with peak electric usage. The Lone Star State also has plenty of wind, but wind generation is wildly unpredictable —  by nature. It’s not unusual for a wind generator’s output to swing 60 percentage points or more in a single week.

Take last month, for example. On Tuesday, April 16, electricity prices reached their cap because ERCOT’s day-ahead wind forecast was off by 50%. Five gigawatts of wind we were counting on to power Texas as the sun went down didn’t show up. That was the equivalent of simultaneously shutting down 10 large natural gas units, or all of the state’s nuclear capacity. If the latter occurred, the news media would be up in arms (and rightfully so). But because the culprit was the political darling of both the left and the right, no one heard about it.

ERCOT hasn’t been the best at predicting wind output, and the problem isn’t entirely its fault. Wind veers so wildly between extremes it’s nearly impossible to plan a sustainable grid around its fickleness — yet wind makes up 26% of our generating capacity.

It’s all because lucrative tax breaks and subsidies at the state and federal level, combined with flaws in ERCOT’s market design, make it almost impossible for wind to lose money — and harder than ever for natural gas to compete, even though it’s far more reliable and affordable. When the wind blows too much, natural gas plants are forced to shut down because they can’t underbid wind producers that can bid zero or negative. But when the wind doesn’t blow when it is needed, wind generators can afford the loss of revenue because they earn so much from tax subsidies.

Imagine trying to open a restaurant when your competitor next door is paying its customers to eat there. It’s no wonder natural gas capacity in ERCOT has barely grown over the past decade, and not enough to make up for losses of coal plants, while demand has been steadily increasing.

All those subsidies are hurting our most reliable, affordable energy producers and putting our economy at risk — leaving you and me, the taxpayers on the hook.

While most political issues are far more complex and nuanced than brazen attack ads and headlines would lead you to believe, in this case, it really does boil down to one simple problem.

And it would be easy to solve — if lawmakers are willing to go against the grain of political correctness and set a clear reliability standard for the wind and solar generators that want to connect to our grid.

Unfortunately, that’s a gargantuan “if.”

As a former lawmaker, I understand the pressures our legislators are under to toe the line on alternative energy. Major utilities embracing World Economic Forum- and United Nations-aligned “energy transition” policies that seek to redefine what’s “clean” and what’s “pollution” are making matters worse. And the incessant misinformation from their well-funded lobby that promise rural “economic development” and “cheap energy” sound too good to be true, because they are.

Elected officials don’t serve the lobby. They serve Texans — or, at least, they should.

And Texans want a reliable, affordable grid. They want to not have to worry about losing power in the heat of the summer or the dead of winter. The Legislature must put a stop to these market-distorting subsidies and make reliability, not popularity, the priority for our electric grid.

Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter on July 6, 2021 to members of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) directing them to “take immediate action to improve electric reliability across the state.” The second directive was to “Allocate reliability costs to generation resources that cannot guarantee their own availability, such as wind or solar power.” Unfortunately, the PUC hasn’t acted on this directive or even studied it. The costs of scarcity on the grid are estimated to have exceeded $12B in 2023, which is equal to two-thirds of the property tax relief passed in the 88th Legislature, all paid for by ratepayers.

“Unfortunately for Texans, the ERCOT grid is moving from a single grid with gas and coal power plants running efficiently all day to two grids: one for wind and solar and one for expensive backup power that fills in the gaps when there is not enough wind and sun,” says Dr. Brent Bennett, policy director for Life:Powered at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Every time these scarcity events occur, whether due to real scarcity or artificial scarcity created by ERCOT’s operating policies, ratepayers are shelling out tens to hundreds of millions of dollars for backup power. It is the most expensive way to operate a grid, and Texans will feel the bite as these costs are absorbed over time.”

The Californication of our grid is unfolding before our eyes. If the Legislature and the PUC don’t act fast, the Texas miracle won’t last.